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No. 20 BYU winning again, but not in its traditional passing style

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Brigham Young Cougars running back Lopini Katoa celebrates a touchdown in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

Brigham Young Cougars running back Lopini Katoa celebrates a touchdown in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

PROVO — The day after BYU pounded FCS foe McNeese State, 30-3, at home, it climbed five spots in the Associated Press poll.

The Cougars (3-1), who joined the AP poll for the first time in three years last week, visit No. 11 Washington (3-1) Saturday (6:30 p.m. MDT, FOX). The Huskies dropped one spot in the poll despite defeating Arizona State, 27-20, last Saturday in Seattle.

BYU joined No. 14 Michigan and No. 16 Miami as the teams making the biggest jump in this week’s poll. All three teams moved up five spots. The only team to beat the Cougars this season, Cal (3-0) made its debut in the poll Sunday at No. 24 despite having a bye last weekend.

Wisconsin (3-1), which fell to BYU a week ago, moved up three spots to No. 15 after beating Iowa last Saturday.

Yes, after a dreadful 4-9 campaign in 2017, BYU is winning again. But the Cougars are not winning in their traditional way.

Everybody knows BYU established its reputation over the past 40-plus years with a high-scoring offense and a high-flying aerial attack, thus earning the “Quarterback Factory” nickname.

Since 1976, 13 different Cougar QBs have thrown for at least 3,000 yards in a season 23 times. As a team, BYU has passed for at least 3,000 yards in 32 of the past 40 seasons, including 14 seasons with at least 4,000 yards and one season with more than 5,000. As a result, the Cougars produced multiple All-American quarterbacks and one Heisman Trophy winner.

But these days, the Cougars are focused on running the ball, not passing it, and they are relying heavily on their defense and special teams.

Senior quarterback Tanner Mangum is on pace to throw for 1,836 yards (153 yards per game) this season.

With a subpar passing game, BYU was able to defeat Arizona, Wisconsin and McNeese State. The game plan called for the Cougars to run, and they turned in solid performances on the ground. BYU ran for 161 yards against McNeese State on Saturday.

Against the Cowboys, Mangum completed 15 of 25 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown. Against Wisconsin, Mangum completed 12 of 22 passes for 89 yards while BYU rushed for 191 yards.

While Mangum has struggled at times, receivers, tight ends and running backs have dropped a bunch of passes through the first four games.

Is the absence of an effective passing game sustainable for the rest of the season?

If BYU is going to pull an upset on the road against the Huskies this weekend, it will likely need to get more production from the passing game.

Last Saturday, BYU erupted for 24 points in the second quarter but each of those offensive drives started in McNeese State territory due to big plays by the special teams (blocked field goal, punt return) and defense (interception, fumble recovery). Also, during that quarter, the Cougars went to an up-tempo style of offense.

Why did the offense fail to score in the first quarter?

“It requires 11 guys doing their jobs to be successful. We weren’t doing that. We had to dial it in and focus on being deliberate in our execution,” Mangum said. “We did a good job pushing through it. We bounced back and we were able to put points on the board. That’s definitely something we’ve got to learn from. We can’t do that every game. We have to start fast and execute from the very start.”

The Cougars rank No. 109 nationally (out of 129 teams) in passing offense, averaging 175 yards per game. BYU is No. 89 in rushing offense, averaging 155 yards per game.

Washington ranks No. 26 in the country in pass defense, giving up 170.7 per game and No. 61 in rushing defense, yielding 143.7 per game.

“It needs to improve,” coach Kalani Sitake said of the passing game. “We need to throw better and be more efficient as an offense. I thought we ran the ball well. There’s a lot of things we can do better. We need to be better offensively.”

Mangum agreed.

“There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s something we definitely have to work on,” he said. “We’re willing to put in that work. On Monday, we’ll get back to work and make sure we improve in that aspect.”

Sitake would like to see more performances like he saw from his team in the second quarter.

“The goal is to do that every quarter, just play as best we can for 60 minutes,” he said.

No. 20 BYU (3-1) at No. 11 Washington (3-1)

Saturday, 6:30 p.m. MDT Husky Stadium


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